1. A Journal for the Journey
Grieving truly is a long and winding road. Depending on your source, grief is a journey with up to seven distinct stages. Whilst the stages of grief may be useful for psychological research, they do very little to help us recognise and understand our feelings in relation to bereavement.
On the other hand, writing a journal can do precisely that. All you’ll need is a pen and paper, or even just notes on your phone. Then, you can start getting to grips with exactly what it is that you’re feeling. I’ll admit it can feel intimidating and even embarrassing to write about your feelings. Yet, a journal is as private as your own thoughts – they just don’t hurtle around as frantically!
Journaling has been shown in research to improve motivation, outlook, and well-being. Furthermore, it has even been found to reduce symptoms of mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Writing a journal helps to combat what is known as ‘experiential avoidance’. This is blocking out and avoiding memories and experiences which cause you pain. Of course, it is understandable that during the grieving process, you do not want to be replaying memories of a loved one on an endless loop. However, putting this into writing can help sustain a meaningful and healthy relationship with memories. Additionally, it can even provide mental respite as they are given a level of permanence by being written. This can increase the quality of sleep, and help you feel asleep faster as writing in this way has shown to decrease ruminative thoughts.
2. Art – The Truest Expression of Grief
Perhaps you aren’t ready to put what you feel into words, and have found yourself staring at a blank page trying to untangle the cacophony of thoughts spinning around your head.
Art, whether it be painting, drawing, photography, music or any other type of creative expression, can be incredibly therapeutic and a great way of more deeply understanding what it is that you’re going through.
Take painting and drawing for instance. If you have recently lost someone close, let’s say a parent, you will not necessarily find yourself painting a life-like portrait of them (very few of us have the ability to). Yet, you may find yourself painting a beach that you used to visit together, or sketching a battered bicycle harkening back to them coming to your aid after you’d fallen off…again. Furthermore, it may not even be clear to you exactly what the exact meaning of your creative output is, but channelling grief into something material and finite will be a huge release.
Music is an incredibly powerful way of dealing with grief, and you may find that it becomes a more important part of your life whilst dealing with a bereavement. Lyrics can be a useful way of helping you to verbalise your grief, as certain lyrics will naturally resonate with you. Compiling a list of these lyrics can gradually give you a clearer image of your feelings and help you to make sense of them. Alternatively, you could make a playlist featuring all these songs, along with any songs that your loved one enjoyed, and songs that simply remind you of them. This musical haven will be of great comfort to you, should you want to take some time to reflect.
3. Baking with Grief-Proof Paper
Baking and cooking can be a rich and multi-sensory way of dealing with grief. Perhaps you’ve got some old recipes still, instructing you how to make Grandma’s ‘famous fish pie’ or Dad’s ‘simply too much sugar shortbread’. Preparing and enjoying these dishes is not only a testament to the fact that their legacy lives on in this way, but also a great way of connecting with your loved one.
The sight of the ingredients, the feel of them in your hands, the sound of the rattling kitchen appliances and the tempting smell of it all coming together is a deep multi-sensory experience – an experience that you once shared together.
Conversely, it can be just as rewarding to do what Olivia Potts (private chef and food-writer) labels as ‘comfort cooking’. Making simple, time-and-attention-consuming items to focus your mind in those times when you might have been otherwise engaged had your loved one still been around. Comfort cooking can provide a rhythm and routine to your day, and help you stay more present. Speaking to Grazia, Olivia Potts describes the power of cooking perfectly:
“…It began as my lifebelt on a sea of grief: something to cling on to – sometimes literally, white knuckles gripping a wooden spoon as I fought to find equilibrium when everything had been knocked off balance. But later, it became less of a lifebelt and more a lifeboat. Cooking gave me control: I was in charge now.”
4. The Silent Treatment
When it comes to grieving, you will likely hear the same advice from numerous people: ‘don’t bottle it up’, ‘talk to someone about it’. Whilst this is proven to be good advice and is strongly recommended, this is not to say that remaining silent is synonymous with bottling things up.
Perhaps you’re an introvert who hates the spotlight, and the idea of having to speak with strangers about your most intimate feelings is a source of pain in itself. There are numerous effective ways of dealing with grief where you don’t have to say a word – including the three listed above.
Aside from journals, art and cooking, other silent techniques such as reading can be very beneficial. Reading informative articles, blogs and memoirs can help to intellectualise and normalise the grief experience, as you will find many other people who have felt the difficult mixture of emotions that you have. Alternatively, reading fiction can be a great way to distract your mind and offer much needed respite. There’s nothing quite as soothing as getting lost in a good book.
I hope these techniques will prove useful to you. Remember, it is healthy to grieve, and the worst thing you can do is try to avoid it. Do what works best for you, and make a difficult time easier on yourself by remaining healthy and active.